Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons. (I Timothy 4:1)
In the decade of the 1980s the term New Age movement inspired a sense of dread in many conservative Christians. This fear stemmed from the conviction that something evil and sinister surrounded this movement and that ominous clouds were on the spiritual horizon. In the ’90s this backlash largely subsided, and most Christians forgot about or ignored what seemed so threatening a few years earlier.
But this movement has not gone away. In fact, it is very much with us and in ways that may surprise many Christians. By the time the new millennium arrived, the New Age had so quietly soaked into our Western culture that many Christians today are literally acclimated and accepting of Gnostic and Eastern spirituality. A Time of Departing unveils this new spiritual paradigm and reveals the many different manifestations it has taken.
If you are a person who believes we have reached the “latter times ”or are right on the threshold, then I Timothy 4:1 should be of keen interest to you. Why?Because if we are indeed in those times, some evidence of this abandonment should be around somewhere. Furthermore, what kind of Christian would be so vulnerable and susceptible to “deceiving spirits?” The nominal Christian?The carnal Christian?You might be surprised at the answer.
How can one recognize Christian teaching that has not been endorsed by Jesus Christ or His apostles?A Time of Departing will help the followers of Jesus (His church)recognize the subtle teachings of deceiving spirits —spirits that are ushering in a rethinking of Christianity through teachings that can lead many into a spirituality that may cause them to abandon the faith. This new spirituality, even now, is manifesting itself within some of our strongest evangelical churches.
This book is not just another attempt to explain the New Age , but rather, an alert to the church of how and through whom New Age thinking is currently creeping into our pulpits, Sunday school classrooms, prayer groups and Bible studies. It is a critical time to heed the warning of the apostle John:“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God;because many false prophets have gone out into the world ” (I John 4:1).
In order to discern the spirits, let us first examine the magnitude and influence the New Age has in current society and define what this movement really involves.
The Scope of the New Age
New Age pundit David Spangler wrote that in 1965, concerning the movement he had embraced:“There weren ’t many places where such a vision was being taken seriously or even considered. ” In 1992, two and a half decades later, secular journalist Michael D. Antonio, speaking of the same movement, discovered quite a remarkable change. He revealed: [S ]ociologists at the University of California at Santa Barbara estimate that as many as 12 million Americans could be considered active participants and another 30 million are avidly interested … New Agers would constitute the third largest religious denomination in America.
By 2002, Bradley University Religious Studies professor Robert C. Fuller not only verified these findings but actually increased the figures to an astounding 20 percent of Americans (forty million people)who now embrace the New Age movement.
We are no longer talking about the minuscule smattering of spiritual adventurers in 1965 Spangler referred to. Something significant has indeed occurred! There are those who might be skeptical of the validity of these statistics. Some may feel they are exaggerated and outlandish —and with good reason. If the New Age is so pervasive, why aren ’t the outer trappings of it apparent on every street?This is an essential question. One dependable way of validating the size of a movement is through the law of the market. Supply, as a rule, corresponds with demand. Business people, financially, live or die by the rule of supply and demand. A continual, large supply of any commodity indicates a large demand;a small supply reflects little demand. It ’s as simple as that.
The demand for New Age teachings speaks clearly from the law of the market. For example, the number of shelves devoted to New Age spirituality at any sizable national chain bookstore is easily 50-80 shelves. In many cases, the New Age material is rivaling or even outstripping the number of shelves containing Christian books. And in some stores, the New Age sections equal or surpass the sports section.
Further, a number of recent New Age books have sold so well they have become what are called cultural phenomena . Books such as Simple Abundance, The Celestine Prophecy (eight million copies sold), Conversations With God (three million sold)and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success have impacted literally tens of millions of people. The last title by Deepak Chopra (a New Age guru popular with celebrities)was Barnes and Noble ’s top-selling book for 1996.
New Age healing practices have proliferated to a staggering degree. One such method known as Reiki now claims more than 500, 000 practitioners in the United States alone. This number is larger than those serving in the U. S. Army!Fifteen years ago there were only several thousand Reiki channelers. Another practice, Therapeutic Touch , like Reiki, is based on the occult chakra system. According to ABC News, Therapeutic Touch has been performed on millions of Americans.
One magazine, Common Boundary , which devoted itself to New Age spirituality in the field of counseling and psychotherapy, disclosed in 1994 that its press run had reached 30, 000 copies bimonthly. Since the magazine’s readers were primarily professionals in these fields it shows the scope of New Age impact in this very influential area. The popular magazine, TV Guide , gave credence to the respectability of the New Age viewpoint by including four New Agers in a ten-person list of people it considered as the nation ’s "prominent spiritual thinkers. ”
Exactly how did the New Age grow from practically nothing to what it is now in just 30 years?Moreover, why does its outer structure seem so invisible?Why do so many people still think it was just a fad in the ‘80s and is now history?The answers to these questions provide a disturbing glimpse into one of the most ingenious and skillful grassroots religious engineering efforts in human history.
Why Do They Call it New Age?
The Aquarian Age or New Age is supposed to signify that the human race is now entering a golden age. Many occultists have long heralded the Aquarian Age as a time period that would be significant to humanity. That is why one writer stated, “A basic knowledge of astrological ages is of enormous importance in occult work.” The Age of Aquarius is when we are all supposed to realize that man is God . As one advocate put it:“A major theme of Aquarius is that God is within . The goal of the Age of Aquarius is to bring this idea into meaningful reality ” (emphasis mine).
Before we can understand how this goal is being pursued, we must first define New Age spirituality. This definition is not as simple as you might think —as one writer pointed out: “It ’s not so much what New Agers believe that sets them apart from other movements … but rather how they come by their beliefs …” Many Christian writers use such terms as pantheism or monism in an attempt to explain what New Agers believe;however, these mere words are rather limiting in conveying the total picture. The best explanation I have encountered is from a book entitled The Mission of Mysticism. It states:
Occultism [New Ageism ] is defined as the science of mystical evolution;;it is the employment of the hidden (i. e. , occult)mystical faculties of man to discern the hidden reality of nature;i. e. , to see God as the all in all ” (emphasis mine).
These mystical faculties are the distinguishing mark of the New Age movement —a mystical perception rather than simple belief or faith. An anti-cult Christian writer once described the New Age movement as a system of thought when, in fact, it is more aptly defined as a system of non -thought. Meditation teacher Ann Wise explained this by stating:
A man came to see me once saying that he had meditated for an hour a day every day for twelve years. Although he enjoyed the time he spent sitting, he felt he was missing something. From talking to other meditators, he felt that he must have been doing something wrong because he had none of the experiences that he had heard others describe. I measured his brainwaves while he was “meditating ” and discovered that he had spent those twelve years simply thinking!
This is why New Age style meditation is commonly referred to as the silence . This is not silence as being in a quiet place but the silence as in an inner silence or an empty mind that opens up the mystical faculties. “The enemy of meditation is the mind, ” wrote one New Age teacher.
What Exactly is Meditation?
The meditation most of us are familiar with involves a deep, continuous thinking about something. But New Age meditation does just the opposite. It involves ridding oneself of all thoughts in order to still the mind by putting it in the equivalent of pause or neutral. A comparison would be that of turning a fast-moving stream into a still pond. When meditation is employed by damming the free flow of thinking, it holds back active thought and causes a shift in consciousness. This condition is not to be confused with daydreaming, where the mind dwells on a subject. New Age meditation works as a holding mechanism until the mind becomes thoughtless, empty and silent.
The two most common methods used to induce this thoughtless state are breathing exercises, where attention is focused on the breath, and a mantra , which is a repeated word or phrase. The basic process is to focus and maintain concentration without thinking about what you are focusing on. Repetition on the focused object is what triggers the blank mind.
Since mantras are central to New Age meditation, it is important to understand a proper definition of the word. The translation from Sanskrit is man , meaning to “think ” , and tra , meaning “to be liberated from. ” Thus, the word literally means to escape from thought . By repeating the mantra, either out loud or silently, the word or phrase begins to lose any meaning it once had. The conscious thinking process is gradually tuned out until an altered state of consciousness is achieved.
But this silence is not the final objective;its attainment is only a means to an end. What that end entails was aptly described by English artist Vanora Goodhart after she embarked on the practice of zen meditation. She recounted:
[A ] light began seeping through my closed eyelids, , bright and gentle at first, but growing more and more intense … there was a great power and strength in this Light … I felt I was being drawn upwards and in a great and wonderful rush of power that rose eventually to a crescendo and bathed me through and through with glorious burning, embracing Light.
Such dynamic experiences as this are what New Age mysticism is really all about —not just believing in some doctrine or a faith that is supported by some creed but rather a close personal contact with a powerful Presence . The renowned occultist Dion Fortune acknowledged:“shifting the consciousness is the key to all occult training. ”
In other words, meditation is the gateway to the “light ” Goodhart experienced. The ultimate objective of the meditation effort lies in the concept called the higher self . This is thought to be the part of the individual linked to the divine essence of the Universe, the God part of man. The goal is to become attuned with the higher self, thus facilitating the higher self ’s emergence into the physical realm bringing the practitioner under the guidance and direction of God. This connection is referred to in New Age circles as:a wakening, transformation, enlightenment, self-realization, c osmic consciousness and superconsciousness. This is also why an interchangeable term for New Age is metaphysics . Metaphysics means that which is beyond the physical realm (the unseen realm)and being intimately connected to those powers not perceived by the normal five senses.
The Impact of Practical Mystics vs. Cults
Evangelical scholar David L. Smith correctly assessed the powerful, yet subtle, impact New Age spirituality was having on society when he observed:
Not since Gnosticism at the dawn of the Christian era has there arisen a philosophy as pervasive and threatening to orthodox Christianity as the New Age movement … It would be difficult to find any area of life, which has not been touched or redirected to some degree by the concepts of this movement.
Smith recognized that, rather than just a small segment, the general social fabric of society is being impacted. The New Age movement has clearly evolved well past the subculture stage into something much more dynamic and influential. This stunning change has been brought about by the rise of a new breed of mystic — one that presents mysticism as a complement to secular goals and one that is adept at surmounting the public ’s natural impulse to reject the strange and unfamiliar. Some examples of this are:
These are just a few examples of what could be called secular mysticism or generic mysticism , meditation practiced not for religious reasons but as a tool to improve life. Many Christians have a difficult time comprehending this concept. They have been trained to think in terms of cults such as the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints)or the Watchtower Society (Jehovah ’s Witnesses). But these groups are rather limited in their impact because, even if they become sizable, they still remain only islands in society. The advantage practical mystics have is that they only have to piggyback a seemingly benevolent meditation method onto whatever programs they are promoting —they do not have to proselytize people to a dogma, only a practice.
New Age publisher Jeremy Tarcher spoke of this challenge in an interview. Speaking of practical mystics he explained:“They have to learn to present their perceptions in appropriate language and actions that don ’t arouse fear or resistance. ”
Because of their success at this effort, one writer delightfully declared that interest in meditation was currently exploding . This explosion in Western culture is very real and unprecedented. In the West, mysticism has always been restricted to a tiny fraction of the population (i. e. , shamans, esoteric brotherhoods, etc. ). Never before has there been a widespread teaching of these methods to everyone but rather just to a small spiritual elite group. Now, mysticism pervades the Western world.
The first such book to reach a broad audience was Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. One could rightfully call this book a practical mystics bible . Many New Agers can trace their first involvement in meta-physics back to this book. Since its publication in 1978, it has sold six million copies and has influenced the fields of psychology, health, business and athletics. The book became so popular because it addressed such topics as creativity, career goals, relationships, better health, and simply being more relaxed and peaceful. Who wouldn ’t want to have all this, especially if all it takes is engaging in a simple practice.
Gawain spelled out very clearly what that practice entailed. She taught her readers:
Almost any form of meditation will eventually take you to an experience of yourself as source, or your higher self …Eventually you will start experiencing certain moments during your meditation when there is a sort of “click ” in your consciousness and you feel like things are really working;you may even experience a lot of energy flowing through you or a warm radiant glow in your body. These are signs that you are beginning to channel the energy of your higher self.
There had been books like hers before, but those appealed to people already in the New Age subculture. This wasn ’t true of Creative Visualization. This book had just the right secular slant on something inherently spiritual. One could stay a Jew, Catholic or Protestant and still practice the teachings of the book. All you were doing was developing yourself not changing your religion.
Shakti Gawain was merely the forerunner of what has become a flood of such books. A more recent book, The Artist ’s Way by Julia Cammeron, which is about the “spiritual path to higher creativity, ” has sold nearly two million copies in ten years.
As another example of this approach, consider a business in a major West Coast city that sold books, tapes, and videos on stress reduction . The owners were very active in their community. Doctors, therapists and teachers came to them for help. They gave talks to school faculties, major corporations and all the major hospitals in their city. Their clientele tended to be affluent, well-educated professionals and business people who were interested in personal growth.
Along with stress reduction and self-improvement, another element was subtly present —spiritual awareness . One of the owners wrote how she attended a powerful workshop with “Lazaris ” and discovered that his techniques were “practical and useful. ” That did not sound too extraordinary until one finds out that Lazaris is not a person but a spirit guide!
Because of the stereotypes about people who gravitate toward mystical experiences (such as counterculture types), we may tend to assume people associated with these practices have strange personalities or are in other ways offbeat. On the contrary, these individuals are bright, articulate, well dressed, and above all, extremely personable . They are positive, and people gravitate toward them. A newspaper reporter who did an article on one of them told me, “She was one of the most calm, serene persons I have ever met. ” The reporter added, “People want what she has. ”
It is increasingly evident that many people want this also. The health, self-help, and recovery sections of secular bookstores are now saturated with New Age metaphysical books. Christian columnist Terry Mattingly summed up the situation brilliantly when he observed:“The New Age didn ’t crest, it soaked in … It is now the dominant theme in commercial bookstores. ”
If the self-help and personal growth sections of most secular commercial bookstores were examined, the only conclusion to come away with would be that New Age mysticism is the prominent spiritual viewpoint of this country.
A case in point:One day while strolling through a shopping mall, I noticed a New Age bookstore and a secular chain bookstore just around the corner from each other. Upon examination, it was clear the secular bookstore had far more New Age books than the New Age bookstore did —hundreds more. Moreover, the vast majority was not in the New Age section but in the self-help and health sections. In essence, New Age bookstores have been rendered redundant by the explosion of practical mystic books stocked in secular ones.
I believe this trend will increase dramatically because of the many centers (one could call practical mystic seminaries)around the country which offer training in meditation to a wide variety of professionals, mostly in the helping professions. Several have quite a large alumni. The Omega Center in Rhinebeck, New York trains 25, 000 persons per year. The Kripalu Center in Massachusetts teaches around 14, 000 people per year, and at the Interface Center in the Boston area, 20, 000 were taught yearly.
The tens of thousands emerging from these transformation centers are going to reach and interact with literally millions of people seeking help for the panoply of life ’s problems. If you still think the New Age movement is a collection of strange cults populated by aging hippies, emotional cripples, and assorted odd balls who are being duped by money-hungry charlatans and egocentric frauds, then think again. We are not dealing with fringe religious groups or New Age riffraff anymore but with a broad-based effort to influence and restructure our whole society.
Behind this restructuring is a concept both subtle and brilliant. Rather than create competing institutions, as is the case with cults, the goal is to transform existing institutions. One writer explained it as, “…a new society forming within the heart of the old. ” This has frequently been referred to as a paradigm shift . Paradigm means model, as in outlook or viewpoint. The goal of this worldview is to move more and more people to believe they can achieve contact and guidance from the higher self. This will eventually translate into a broad-based cultural shift in which the mystical state will become as common as watching television or reading a newspaper. It will be the predominant model or paradigm for humanity. We are in the midst of this change now. It is not just a fad!
Modern Day Wizards
From a Christian perspective, it becomes obvious this paradigm shift to the public ’s greater acceptance of New Age teachings is a very dangerous opponent to Christianity ’s core message. One New Age proponent made this clear when he noted that meditation “brings with it a curious kind of knowing that there is somebody else there with you ;you are not alone. ”
One woman who came under this influence shared the instructions she received during meditation. Her guide told her:“I love you, … Stay in my light, my love …Trust in me, your Lord . ” This, I believe, is a classic example of what Leviticus 19:31 warned:“Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them:I am the Lord your God ” ((KJV). It is important to note that the word wizard in Hebrew means a knowing one. New Age mystic Jacquelyn Small proclaimed:“People who seek spirituality through an inner pathway [meditation ] become knowers. . ” In essence, New Agers are wizards! New Age mysticism reflects the teachings of what were once called the mystery schools of antiquity. The mystery religions were so labeled because their teachings were kept hidden from the common people. In fact, the term occult originated from the mystery religions because the majority of the people were ignorant of their true meanings. The word occult literally means hidden. The priests and adepts (initiated through various grades or levels)were the ones who gained insight into these hidden truths of the universe. Despite enormous geographical distances and cultural differences, the mysteries all taught the same message:“Happy and blessed one, you have become divine instead of mortal. ”
When a Christian hears someone claim to be God he immediately recognizes the pronouncements of Satan: “You will be like God ” (Gen. 3:5), and “ I will be like the Most High ” (Isaiah 14:14). The sad thing about this is these experiences are so real and convincing. People experiencing the superconscious testify that deep meditative states are very beautiful. They experience intense light flooding them, as did Goodhart, and have a sense of infinite wisdom. In this state, they experience ecstasy and feel a sense of unity with everything .
New Age leader Peter Caddy related an incident in which a group of Christians confronted him and tried, as he put it, to “save my soul. ” He told them to come back and talk to him when they had the same wonderful mystical experiences he had. His point was that these naive Christians had no idea what the metaphysical life was all about and if they did, they would want it.
Feelings such as these are common in New Age circles and have hooked many into thinking something this positive has to be of God. The truth of the matter is, those who say they have connected with their divinity and are God, sadly, have joined the ranks of those who:“Professing to be wise [knowing the truth ] , they became fools [absurd ] , and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man …” (Romans 1:22-23).
One New Age spiritual writer told her readers:When Christians ask if “you believe you are a sinner, ” respond with, “We have not perfectly realized our divine potential, but are still in the process of unfolding it through meditation and higher states of consciousness. ”
One person who claimed to have reached his higher self was Swami Muktnanda, one of the most admired and respected New Age leaders during the 1970s and early 1980s. Many thought he was the virtual embodiment of the God-realized master. He told his disciples:“Kneel to your own self. Honor and worship your own Being. Chant the mantra always going on within you. Meditate on your own self. God dwells within you as you. ” But when Muktananda died in 1983, one of his closest followers revealed that his master “ended as a feeble-minded, sadistic tyrant luring devout little girls to his bed every night with promises of grace and self-realization. ”
Without realizing he was echoing the truth of the Bible, the disciple concluded: There is no absolute assurance that enlightenment necessitates the moral virtue of a person. There is no guarantee against the weakness of anger, lust and greed in the human soul. The enlightened are on an equal footing with the ignorant in the struggle against their own evil.
Swami Muktananda ’s “enlightenment ” did not translate into personal righteousness. He was just a sinner who mystically perceived he was God.
The Cross vs. The Higher Self
The New Age and Christianity definitely clash on the answer to this question of human imperfection. New Age metaphysics espouses the doctrine of becoming self-realized, united with the universe, which New Agers see as God, but in reality it is the realm of familiar spirits, led by Lucifer himself. On the other hand, the gospel Christians embrace offers salvation to humanity through grace (unmerited favor ). Romans 3:24 boldly states:“ … being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. . ” In Romans 6::23 we read: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ”
This gift is not earned or given as a reward for earnest or good intention. Ephesians 2:8-9 states clearly: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves;it is the gift of God;not of works, lest anyone should boast. ”
This Scripture suggests that the issue of pride divides all of man ’s religions from Christianity. Religion persuades us that man is innately good and, therefore, can earn his way to heaven through human perfectibility or, better yet, through the realization of his own divinity. Christianity emphatically states the opposite view that man needs to humbly recognize his own sinfulness and fallibility, and consequently the need of salvation through grace.
Scripture then takes those who recognize their own sinfulness and presents to them God ’s solution — salvation through the Cross:“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace ” (Ephesians 1:7). In Romans 10:9, 10 Paul extends God ’s invitation, “ … if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. ” Salvation is entirely a gift of grace bestowed on whoever will believe in Jesus ’ sacrifice on the Cross as the God-man. Consequently we must receive Him as Lord and Savior with the understanding that it is by grace and grace alone that we are made acceptable in Christ before a holy God. Justification is God ’s gift to the believer. This saving faith, a demonstration of His faithfulness, is more than an intellectual belief in Jesus ’ death on the Cross but involves committing and entrusting one ’s life to Jesus as both Lord and Savior understanding that Christ ’s going to the Cross was a finished work and we as believers are now complete in Him. Nothing else can be added to this. How totally opposite from New Age thinking is God ’s plan of salvation!
It all comes down to the preaching of the higher self versus the preaching of the Cross. New Agers say God is synonymous with a person ’s higher self, and the experience of God is discovered through the way of meditation. The Christian proclaims his sinfulness before a Holy God and remembers he is but dust, saved only by the grace of God through the sacrificial shedding of Christ ’s blood for his sins. The message of Jesus Christ reaches past the degenerate state of humanity with the love of God who sacrificed His only begotten Son for the Swami Muktanandas of the world. The Bible teaches that man has a basic rebellious and ungodly nature (which is evident), and his ways are naturally self-centered and evil in the sight of God, but Scripture does not teach that God ignores us. Christ dying for the ungodly to reconcile the repenting sinner to God reveals the Lord ’s love toward man.
This explains why Christianity must be steadfast on these issues. If a belief system does not teach the preaching of the Cross, then it is not “the power of God ” (I Cor. 1:18). If other ways are correct, then Christ died in vain, His blood unnecessary.
Because of this conflict, one would certainly think Christendom would be the most formidable obstacle to the New Age, standing like a bulwark against this tide of meditation teachers and practical mystics. But, incredibly, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the most successful practical mystics are appearing from within Christendom itself. Instead of retarding the momentum of New Age spirituality, it is our own churches that may very well be the decisive catalysts, which propel the New Age into prominence. Certain spiritual practices are becoming entrenched in our churches that, like an iceberg, seem beautiful and impressive on the surface but can nevertheless cause great damage to the impact of the gospel of Jesus Christ.